If it hasn’t happened yet in your neck of the woods, The Freeze is looming. It’s the bane of the end of summer, or the benefit of the end of summer, I go back and forth depending on the year. But in my most recent gardening years, I have come to firmly believe it is the benefit of the end of summer. It is when, after a no rest marathon beginning with starting seeds inside in February, planting seedlings and cold weather seeds in March and April, finally setting out leggy tomatoes and peppers in May (because in the depths of winter and your craving for spring, you started the seeds too early), harvesting and weeding and mulching and canning in June, July, August and September, you can finally anticipate a rest with The first Freeze.
When my garden was smaller, my husband and I religiously covered everything if the weatherman predicted even the slightest possibility of The Freeze. We couldn’t stand the thought of losing our hard-earned crops in one mid-September freeze only to be followed with 3 weeks of warm weather and sunshine. However, I learned something by dragging out all those towels and sheets and old curtains: It Wasn’t Worth It.
In my experience, three more weeks of sunshine and warm weather at the end of September and beginning of October – before we finally gave into nature and let The Freeze kill off the garden – produced approximately 1.7 more ripe tomatoes and not much else. It was more work than it was worth.
Over time, as our garden morphed into the oversized produce department that it is today, I wisened up. Or gave in. I prefer to think I became one with nature, accepted and began to understand the benefits of living seasonally and allowed The Freeze to happen while leaving my prolific Cherokee Purple and Sun Gold tomato plants unprotected.
Contrary to my previously distraught emotional state upon viewing the garden out the window the morning after The Freeze, I now relish the rest that will follow. No more tending to the garden means no more fresh produce…except for the kale that will keep producing until November…but it means a break.
A break AFTER the canning is finished. At this point, you should be semi-convinced that The Freeze should actually be celebrated. That is good. You are transitioning into appreciating the cycles of nature. However, the day before The Freeze, assuming you know it is coming, you scramble around in the garden picking every last vegetable, ripe and unripe. Although your plants will perish, and although you are now beginning to look forward to The Freeze, you will not dare let all of your marathon gardening be consumed by Mother Nature. Let her have the plants…not the fruits.
After you finish the back-breaking work of the final harvest (and give thanks for the hands that spend all day every day picking the produce you buy in the grocery store) you have every basket and bowl you own overrun with vegetables. You have to tip toe around errant summer squash and tomatillos that have rolled out of their assigned containers that take up most of the floor space in your kitchen. Over the next few days, you let some of the unripe vegetables ripen, you savor some of the fresh and ready-to-be-eaten, but the rest must be dealt with…and quick…unless you want a household full of fruit flies happy to help with the breakdown of your summer’s bounty.
Can it, dry it, freeze it, cook it, enjoy it. In January, when you pull out a jar of homemade tomato sauce, you will be thankful you worked to put everything up in the few days after The Freeze.
Here are a couple of tips:
1. If you’re not ready to use your tomatoes now, wash them and freeze them whole. When you are ready to use them, thaw them: the skins will come right off and the pulp will separate easily from the seeds.
2. Grate all of your zucchini and freeze it in 1-3 cup portions (depending on how much your favorite recipe calls for). Over the winter, thaw it batch by batch to make zucchini bread, soup, fritters, or pancakes.
3. Leave all of your green tomatoes out on the counter in a basket. Over the next few weeks, most of them will ripen.
– The Goat Cheese Lady
P.S. The edited version of this post ran first on the IndyBlog here on October 5, 2014.